Why iCloud Doesn’t Stream Music (Yet) And Why It Doesn’t Have To [Opinion]

Why iCloud Doesn’t Stream Music (Yet) And Why It Doesn’t Have To [Opinion]

No matter how many months of rumors and insider reports precede an anticipated Apple announcement, it’s probable that, when Steve Jobs actually reveals the product on stage, it’s going to be radically different than what people are expecting… but iCloud could be the most radical deviation yet between the fancy of pre-announcement hype and the reality of Apple’s finished product.

What people expected from iCloud was a streaming cloud locker for your media collection: iCloud would scan your iTunes library and automatically mirror them on a central server, allowing you to stream any song you owned to any device you owned without being bothered with local storage.

What people got? iTunes Match. It scans and matches your iTunes library in the cloud, sure, but there is no streaming: any time you want to listen to an album that’s not on your iPhone or iPad, you’ve got to download it from the cloud onto your device.

No streaming? What was Apple thinking?

From a consumer perspective, the lack of streaming in iCloud and iTunes Match is a conspicuous omission. After all, not only was all of the pre-announcement rumors about iCloud focused on streaming, but it’s what people have been crying for all along: a way to leverage ubiquitous mobile internet connections to break free of the limitations of local storage, once and for all. It’s why users have flocked to services like Spotify and Rdio, and it’s the only draw of competing locker services like Amazon Cloud Locker and Google Music. How could Apple leave streaming out?

Easy. We were all wrong. iCloud wasn’t supposed to liberate us from the limitations of onboard storage… at least not yet. It’s supposed to liberate us from iTunes. It’s supposed to liberate us from the PC.

iCloud basically cuts the umbilical between your computer and your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. iCloud not only pushes your purchased apps, books, video and music to every device automatically, it stores your photos, updates your firmware and stores and restores your device backups. iTunes Match, meanwhile, makes sure that you can get your iTunes music library onto your iOS device without ever plugging in a USB cable. Once iTunes Match is supplemented with video support (and it will be), there will literally be no reason for 99.9% of iOS users to ever plug their iDevices into a computer.

With iCloud, Apple was thinking bigger than just streaming. They wanted to fulfill Steve Jobs promise of a post PC age, and that meant finally killing off the one product that more than any other built Apple’s modern day empire: iTunes.

That’s not to say that streaming can’t come to iCloud and iTunes Match. In fact, it would be a fairly trivial thing for Apple to add in down the line.

So why didn’t iCloud launch with music streaming? Simple. As we highlighted before, while the technology is there to stream all of your music from the cloud to your device, the carriers’ prohibitive capped mobile data plans simply aren’t made for demoting local storage in favor of cloud streaming. An American’s 2GB iPhone or iPad data plan will net him a little over an hour each day of medium-quality streaming music… and that’s not taking into account any other use for your mobile data per month. And with video, it’s even worse.

Streaming will come to iCloud some day, I have no doubt, but hindsight being 20/20, it’s clear that iCloud was never really about streaming. It wasn’t about killing downloads at all. It was about killing iTunes.

  • George

    What I wonder is if this will finally allow me to properly mirror my iTunes collection on my PC and my Mac (which I use to sync my iOS devices) including playcounts and what not. Because now when I listen on my PC stuff obviously doesn’t get updated on my Mac, and that is really annoying.
    I’m not sure if I got the iCloud concept right, but if I pay for this, would this enable me to have it all in sync? Or does it just download stuff to iTunes and then its like it always has been? Because for that I could also pull it over via LAN.

  • Reed

    When streaming will get to iCloud it will be the end of “net neutrality”: bandwidth is physically limited, and it must be either capped OR traffic must be shaped. Your choice.

  • dagamer34

    Why not stream from iTunes or from your web browser then? Log in and all your songs are available without needed to download. THAT would be worth $24.99/year.

  • Tom McGrath

    I don’t care about streaming really, as I listen to most of my music whilst on the go, and I have an iPod touch, so I wouldn’t be able to use 3G anyway. Sure, I know some would prefer to have streaming, but personally, I’m not that bothered.

  • dcairbre

    this is a great article, puts a nice perspective on things.

  • Snackhound

    George, turn on iTunes home sharing on both your Mac and PC. 

  • R.W. Elti

    Kill iTunes? Dismantle, maybe, but kill?

    iTunes is how many people shop for new music, or rent TV/movies, manage playlists (much easier for large collections than a mobile device), Internet radio, podcasts, iTunes U, etc.

    iTunes is still an important app. “Number one on iTunes” is frequently heard.

    Why would Apple kill the goose that laid the golden egg?

    I believe you are referring to just one of iTunes’ functions: synching with devices.

    They might kill iTunes, but many of its functions would be split off into more streamlined, simpler programs.

  • huyett

     It’ll push it to all computers with your apple store ID on your itunes. 

    They don’t want to stream because then you won’t buy the 32gig iPhone over the 16gig model ($100 more); rather you’d save the extra money on physical memory and stream for 2 years ($50).

    As for cutting the umbilical cord… they essentially did the same thing by activating wifi sync.  The only difference is that iTunes match work  over 3g?  For iPod users it won’t be different at all.

    There’s also no support for browser streaming obviously.

    With all this considered, the title seems a little bit ridiculous “and Why it Doesn’t Have to.”  Anyone paying 25$ for a service is going to want full access to their music and kick the physical memory habit.  The only reason they sell those big flash memory cards in these phones and iPods is to fill them with music — who fills their memory with vidoes or photos (read: no one).

    Give me streaming to my 3g devices and a spot on a browser to have tunes without having to install iTunes and I’m there.

  • Daniel Beehn

    Apple already allows you to stream from iTunes. It’s called AirPlay.

  • quietstorms

    Net Neutrality is already dead on cellular networks. Google and Verizon made sure of that. That shouldn’t mean that we should not have the ability to stream music because of that. 

    As it stands Apple will either have to offer this service or start offering more storage on their iOS devices.

  • George

    Easy answer? Apps. I got like 40 GB of apps on my iPad. And I wouldn’t want to use 3G for streaming music, I’d max my traffic in 2 days, and then its also a connection issue. Until carriers find a way not to be so cheap with traffic and figure out a way to provide enough instead of 1998 like traffic caps I don’t want to use this.
    So you say they want to sell bigger storage in their products and thats why there is no stream? Ok, so if there where stream, would people buy less storage? No, because as you said iPods have no 3G, most iPads have no 3G, and streaming over 3G is expensive and a hassle. And then you also need storage for Apps/games.

  • George

    Thanks I’ll look into it. Always thouht that didn’t sync playcounts or would require me to leave both computers running

  • George

    If you mean leave your computer running and then accessing music on the go, there are tons of free alternatives to do that. 

  • Dave Berry

    Large numbers of people want streaming and the ability to download select content  for offline use which is why rdio and rhapsody are probably breathing a slight sigh of relief today. I personally am really tired of all this “syncing” so this really solves nothing for me except providing a backup of my purchased tunes which should have ben there years ago. I’ll be very interested to see how icloud/match decides how to stuff my 100gb music collection onto my 8-16GB devices. Also, I’m not sure why you imply 3g is the only way to stream content, I use WAP whenever possible as I bet most people do.

  • Jason

    How is AirPlay working for you when your out of your house and cant VPN back to your home or use some other remote accsess to accses your Itunes library over Airplay? Not to well huh?

    By the way some may want to look at SubSonic and streamtome if they can allow a Mac to be running all the time. Not excalty what everyone wants but at least something.

  • Jacob

    Couldn’t agree more. If I am going to take advantage of the service and a duplicate version of my music is going to be the cloud for the backup and sync purpose why not continue with the main point of Steve Jobs yesterday? The PC or iphone is just a device. I should be able to listen to my cloud version from work or another computer anywhere in the world.

    In this case cell data caps do not matter 

  • Wild

    I was thinking the same thing.  Kill iTunes was inaccurate statement.  We still use iTunes app on our devices.  He meant what you said, it’s about killing the dependance on a computer for syncing and setting up the device.  They want to be able to sell an iPad to someone who does not have a computer.

  • Jason

    no he and most of us mean since our music is already going to be in the cloud have a web interface or an app to stream your music from the cloud to your PC/Mac or iphone. We dont want to leave the PC on all the time. No reason to when apples data center is sitting there on all the time. And we dont need to pay or worry about any other alternatives to do that since we are already paying 25$ to apple which who could do that.

  • George

    Uh yeah just tried it, thats not it. It only updates playcounts when I access the library from another computer, and only THAT library gets updated. Thats not what I want. I want to merge 2 libraries playcounts and keep them in sync. So when I play music on my mac and then go on my PC, the playcounts are syncronised. Home sharing doesn’t seem to do that.

  • George

    Yeah, so? What he said was “Why not stream from itunes”.

  • The Nakizo

    I do that with SubSonic.  I took a cheapo Acer Revo and loaded it with tunes, poked a hole through my home firewall, and now stream thousands of tunes to my iPhone whever I go.  

  • David Chu

    Your argument doesn’t make any sense.  What does iCloud and net neutrality have to do with each other?  Streaming music is peanuts in bandwidth when it comes to streaming video.  

  • Jason

    finish the quote from him
    “….or from your web browser then?” He just mentioned itunes as another front end. iTunes from a computer remotely if you can have itunes where your at, web site, app, ect. Doesnt matter what the front end is using. We just want acsess to our cloud to stream from. Not a hard thing to ask for or understand 

  • Dfender

    yeah thats exaclty the answer for the 89% of the apple users who want symplicity. Lets have them now have to worry about exporting the library to an another box, syncing music and playlist using a third party software or manually to your server and poking holes in firewalls. Normal people want to do excalty what you have accomplisdhed. But they want to do it by paying 25$ and just a mirror copy of it as a button in the ipod app on the iphone or a website link from icloud.

  • Brooke Becker Habecker

    No streaming? No $24.99 from me! Even with a 32 GB iPhone, my music collection wouldn’t fit. I don’t wish to have to go through that whole library and choose only some of the songs to put on my iPhone. I want room for apps. No streaming, that bugs the crap out of me. I don’t have a capped data plan, so I don’t care about usage. I have no use for the paid plan. I’ll stick with mSpot, which streams all my music, whenever I want. I don’t have a single track local on my iPhone.

  • Doug Bursnall

    Not seen an $25/year mobile unlimited data plans, but please enlighten us.
    Memory is cheap, and getting cheaper, with wireless syncing, you’ll be able to upload new podcasts, your music, vids etc, whilst you sleep ready for the next day. If you really need to stream just turn on Pandora etc.
    Mobile streaming is just a bandwidth hog that reduces the quality of service for every other product. We all need to wait for the carriers and communication technology to catch up, then maybe, though by that point memory will be so cheap….

  • Dave Berry

    so Doug, syncing is not a bandwidth hog? Pandora doesn’t allow you to choose whatever song you want which is why I want to download what I want and stream the rest. Amazon got his part right. Apple has a competitive advantage because they can bypass the upload but still need to allow streaming. Yes, memory is getting cheaper but i don’t see device capacity being able to keep up with the ever increasing demand as it cant even satisfy my 100GB+ library now.

  • ?????????? ?????????

    Well part of the world is not ready for such a traffic in streaming. For instance, you are sitting in the park connected to a public hotspot and streaming music. What happens if you leave?! You will have to connect to 3G and even though this is an efficient way, many of those who are not able to pay for this charge afterwards (high charges by the operator) will certainly miss on the experience.

    But if you have downloaded your music prior to your little walk than you will not have any problems. Not to mention that your music will be better organised than searching through your cloud. 

    If it is up to Steve, he would have taken out the memory and replace it with iCloud. But he is still aware that this is not ready for such a large step. Maybe in the future, but now when there are drastic charges of 3G by different operators and many of them do not posses the hardware to manage such a traffic, better wait than have unpleased customers. Why, Steve waited 14 years for this idea, why not little more for his entire one?!

  • minimalist1969

    Killing our reliance on iTunes is a nice idea.  But the reality is that Apple just took all the headaches associates with device space management in iTunes and moved them to the cloud.  They have just substituted on hassle for another.  Now I have to juggle all that on an even smaller more cumbersome interface.   Trying to delete stuff to free up space for something that never needed to leave the cloud in the first place.  The whole point of the cloud is to have all your stuff available all the time.   iCloud has far too many asterisks (1 month for photos on the cloud,  1000 photos on your devices, download only for music, 5GB for everything else).

    The space on iPhones and iPads are limited… so much co that I long ago gave up even trying to figure out which portions of my 150 GB of music to put on my devices.  This is why I gladly pay Rdio 10 dollars a month for a service that lacks the polish and thoughtfulness of an Apple designed UI.  Rdio also scans and matches… AND they let me choose whether I want to stream or download my own music or add to my collection on the fly.    I would gladly pay Apple that much or more for an analogous service but they seem intent on keeping their “people-prefer-to buy-their-music” business model well protected.

  • Infoguy2011

    Streaming could never replace onboard storage. What about the times I want to listen to my music but don’t have a cell connection (plane, in the wilderness, etc…)?

  • Lonnie Lazar

    A couple of questions come to mind – and I haven’t read thru all the comments so these may have already been asked and possibly answered, but here goes anyway:

    1. If you have to download songs using iCloud/iTunes Match, won’t that eat up data just as much as streaming would?

    2. How is iTunes Match gonna serve up my 125GB music collection on my 16GB iPhone or my 32GB iPad?  It’s NOT, that’s how.

  • Joeut

    Lots of rationalization here. Face it: lack of streaming from Apple’s new service cannot be considered a step forward. Yes, I like having some music stored locally on my mobile device (for those times when traveling, etc.), but streaming really provides that separation of device from stored content.

  • Eos Wireless

    Beyond the iPhone and iPad, streaming would have been really nice would for the Apple TV.  When they pulled the hard drive from the new Apple TV, I was hoping that  they would allow some way to stream without having to have it access your iTunes library from your computer. The old apple TV would sync your iTunes library from your computer when it was available on WiFi…with no memory on the new Apple TV, when your computer is out of the house, like my laptop often is, there is no music or video source to stream from.  Streaming, if only over Wi-Fi and just for the Apple TV would have been huge!!!  

    I did not see where Apple said that there would not be streaming…just an omission about streaming.  How sure are you that there will not be streaming?

  • R.W. Elti

    So what did they purchase Lala.com for?  I mean Lala was all about a web interface and streaming, wasn’t it?  More questions have been raised since this announcement than answers.

    I’d like a iTunesCloud web site that would stream my music to me as a totally separate function than the iCloud they describe.   Have it stored on my devices for when I’m isolated, but have an option to hear it via a website when that is more convenient.

    If you never tried lala.com while it existed you missed a cool website.
    Nearly instant-on streaming of songs. I think it was 10 cents a song.

  • aga

    I just installed a sinology NAS and put my music (and photos and video and ALL my files) on that. I can access it from any computer. I plugged a USB sound card in the back which drives my HiFi amp, and control that with the Synology App on my iPhone, so don’t have to run computer. I can also listen to all my music on my iPhone or iPad by streaming.

    Way to go!!!

  • OEB

    They were probably thinking of including the camera (streaming) in the next model.

  • Perception

    Streaming music kills your bandwidth cap? Wow, I better stop using my Pandora. And Rhapsody. And Last.fm. And Iheartradio.

    Your arguments hold no water friend, Apple really messed up and they will find out soon enough. Music streaming at a minimum should have been included with iCloud.

  • huyett

    I agree that physical memory is getting cheaper, but when it comes to devices, you’re not paying the actual cost of the flash chip.  $100 to go from 16gig to 32gigs — I don’t see that changing much? 

    I’ve been grandfathered in for unlimited data usage so I didn’t even think about that, that’s very true, but that’s not to say that you shouldn’t be able to stream to a browser!

  • Hessy21

    Just a question or an idea.
    So itunes Match will take the info from the songs in your library and automatically match it to the song on itunes correct?
    So in theory it would be possible to have one song in your itunes library changing the info of that song to match the song you want in itunes.
    I really cant believe that Steve would allow you to only pay $25 and have the ability to match any song on itunes to your cloud.
    Correct me if I am wrong.

  • Freek Monsuur

    It should say “killing the PC as the digital hub for iOS devices”.

  • Ricardo Ferreira

    It’s all about selling more iphones with bigger storage for now. Apple will give us a real cloud only when it can recoup the money lost for not selling that 64Gb iphone at an incredibly high price. Every product needs differentiation – for Apple is the flash memory for now, but we’ll have an iphone mini when the true cloud becomes real.

  • Ricardo Ferreira

    1. No, because with streaming you stream a file every single time you play it – that’s huge. The iCloud only downloads the files that are missing. But yes, it would be almost as data intensive as streaming if you’re always buying/adding new music
    2. This is why this version of the iCloud is a middle of the road solution that doesn’t please anybody IMHO. People have massive collections of music these days. The main objective of the cloud is to abandon local storage, that’s it, let’s not come up with a solution that’s not one thing nor the other…

  • Tom

    I gotta say I think you’re way off on this. Unfortunately, as a serious mac lover, I’m going to have to find a way to do what I actually want to do with the cloud–streaming. While I see your point in thinking bigger, and I do applaud them for that, I don’t see anything here that solves my problem. As most people who have commented here, my library is simply too large to fit on one of these devices. So for music, this iteration of iCloud doesn’t solve any issues for me–if anything, it only makes me have to find a service that will. And this is the first time I’ve looked anywhere but a Mac solution for quite some time.

  • Felipe Edoardo

    Save for the data plan limitations, streaming could have fit very well into the whole liberation-from-PC vision, so what you’re saying is mainly irrelevant in that front.

    It’s pretty obvious that the reason why it wasn’t implemented is that it would have stopped people from buying the iPods, iPhones and iPads with larger storage capacity. It was a conflict of interest to Apple, because as much as they want people to be free from their PCs, they also want to make money, and a 64 Gb iPad, for example, is significantly more expensive than a 16 Gb one. Not to mention the extra cost streaming would mean to Apple in terms of bandwidth.

  • Masqueman

    Apple consistently reinvents its products and takes us to places many of us never imagined. That is why we keep buying newer iPods, laptops and desktop computers when our older ones still work perfectly fine. All I can say is Apple Gods shine down upon us and show us your glory! ha ha. Just kidding around. Great article. It answered many of my questions…

  • Atabs

    I refuse to share my music library with my wife because she insists on having an iPhone.  If apple won’t make streaming music easy for iphone users, she’ll forever have to borrow my devices.

  • Spurly1

    That makes no sense to me.  Why are you punishing your wife for having an IPhone?

  • Pimentoloaf

    Well that marriage is going to last a while. Sounds blissful.

  • Nicole Reichel Mackin

    I am a divorce attorney.  Call me.  http://www.missdivorcelawyer.com

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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